Rasmussen: The GOP’s cure for the common poll

September 17, 2012

Scott Rasmussen is a polarizing pollster.

And that's never been more the case than in the 2012 presidential race.


Scott Rasmussen (Helayne Seidman for the Washington Post)

Rasmussen's prolific polling service, Rasmussen Reports, has long been a bone of contention in the political world (for more, see Jason Horowitz's great 2010 profile). Essentially, Democrats think Rasmussen is a thinly veiled partisan (Republican) pollster, some reporters and media organizations refuse to use his polls (which are conducted via an automated method that doesn't include cellphones) and others (including The Fix) report the results with caveats.

Mitt Romney's campaign and its allies, though, are apparently huge fans.

Even as other pollsters — Gallup, Fox News, CBS News/New York Times, Washington Post/ABC News — have shown the presidential race tilting toward President Obama in recent days, Romney aides and allied Republicans proudly tout the newest Rasmussen numbers, which show their guy actually holding a very small lead: 47 percent to 45 percent.

Rasmussen, like other pollsters, showed an initial bump for Obama, who at one point led by five points in its daily tracking poll. That bump dissipated quickly, though, and Romney now leads again — as he has in its polling for much of the past couple months.

Thus, it has played a major role in the Romney team's push-back against the emerging conventional wisdom that their campaign is struggling and consumed by infighting.

The conservative-leaning Drudge Report has blared new Rasmussen polls atop its front page in recent days, Romney advisers and allies point privately to Rasmussen numbers, and now Romney allies are even pitching the pollster in public a bit.

“[Obama's] convention bounce has faded faster than most," Romney campaign strategist Stuart Stevens told Politico in a follow-up to the Web site's report about campaign infighting. "If you’re losing four points [in Gallup and Rasmussen] and that’s a good week, I’d hate to see a bad week."

In a memo on Friday, the Republican National Committee argued that, even as other pollsters have shown Obama evening the score on who is better able to manage the economy, Rasmussen shows Romney leading on that measure.

"Rasmussen found Thursday that half of likely voters trust Gov. Romney to better handle the economy," RNC communications director Sean Spicer wrote. "President Obama lags by seven points."

This strategy isn't without risk. Rasmussen is still regarded with some suspicion by political reporters and strategists. The pollster conducts polls in a brief, four-hour window, uses only published telephone numbers and routinely weights results for party identification -- a practice most public pollsters shy away from.

Rasmussen, who didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from The Fix, has shrugged at the doubters.

"If I really believed for a moment that if we played by the rules of (the American Association for Public Opinion Research) or somebody else they would embrace us as part of the club, we would probably do that," he said in 2010. "But, number one, we don't care about being part of the club."

Rasmussen has had both good years and bad years, according to various pollster ratings. While its track record was pretty good in the middle of last decade (2004 and 2006) and average in 2008, after the 2010 election the New York Times' Nate Silver labeled Rasmussen "biased and inaccurate." Silver calculated that Rasmussen missed the final margin of the races it polled in the 2010 midterms by an average of 5.8 percentage points.

But Republicans note that Rasmussen did just fine in the last presidential race in 2008. They also note that Gallup, while its top-line number is different from Rasmussen, has shown similar movement in its daily tracking poll in recent days.

"Rasmussen's track record ('08 and '10) makes it a very credible polling source in this year's election," Romney pollster Neil Newhouse told The Fix in an e-mail.

If there continues to be a disparity between Rasmussen and other polls, expect to hear plenty more about Rasmussen's numbers — along with the continuing debate about how reliable they are.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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